Mukiza’s coaching passion has him ascending in English game

Setting coaching career: Mukiza has been steadily rising as a coach in English football and believes he will one day return home to make an impact. PHOTOS/ COURTESY 

What you need to know:

From a volunteer coach at small community clubs in the UK, through Leicester City Academy, forming own local team, and now scouting and nurturing kids at Peterborough; the Ugandan’s journey is just getting started 

KAMPALA. Retired Cranes captain Ibrahim Sekagya is, by and large, the most recognisable Ugandan football figure and coach, the latter mostly outside of Africa.

Also famous for having played in European club football and captained Red Bull Salzburg to a domestic trophy, Sekagya’s profile was elevated even higher when he was recently named interim coach of New York Red Bulls II, the senior side’s feeder outfit.

His steady rise has led to inquiries on whether there could be another Ugandan coaching at that level in Europe or the US.

Well, maybe not exactly at the same level, but there surely should be some unknown names combing different pastures abroad hoping to find some greener ones.

Amos Mukiza, 35, is one that came to our attention in the aftermath of Sekagya’s elevation in New York. 

Bossing the Midlands

Mukiza is currently Peterborough FC’s head of recruitment in the Midlands, also doubling as coach of the third tier side’s U11s. The Midlands include Birmingham, Leicester, Coventry, Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Derby and Wolverhampton. 

“My long term ambition is to be a top level coach,” Uefa B licence holder Mukiza, currently pursuing Uefa A, told  SCORE.

Last season, also his first at Peterborough, was his personal career best in one campaign. The season culmination saw four of the kids he coaches bought from Peterborough, the most sold in one window by the club. 

“Of course Peterborough would have loved to keep these players but when bigger teams come calling, you have no choice. It is maybe also, in a way, proof that I’m working, when attention to these kids grows. I’m looking forward to an even better new season,” he added.

The journey

Professional coaching is not something Mukiza, a computer scientist, set out to do. The former Kibuli SS student, who - at about 19 years old - left Uganda mid-way his course at Makerere University before completing it at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK in 2011, just met with destiny.

Out of sheer passion and some connections, Mukiza casually started coaching kids at Oadby - a community club, at weekends after his university in the UK. No training, no papers. Just raw passion. 

A friend of his loved what he saw of his work at Oadby and thought Mukiza had what it took to actually coach football.

This friend of his had a son who played at another Midlands club Carib SS FC, who had a dominant black composition. So he thought, ‘why not?’ He took Amos and introduced him to Pupsy, the ‘rasta’ top guy at Carib.

“There were so many black players (at Carib) I thought I was back home in Uganda. Kids from Bermuda, Antigua and Barbuda, Trinidad and Tobago, name it,” explained Mukiza.

Pupsy liked Mukiza and later offered him the chance to train the kids at Carib. “I saw a real opportunity here and something told me this was big.” 

Fruits of his hands

At Oadby, Mukiza is credited for producing standout kids like Sammy Braybrooke, now U19 captain at Leicester, and 18-year-old  striker Luther Munakandafa, who just signed his first professional contract with Notts County in June. 

But it is at Carib where the prospect of taking coaching seriously became more apparent, and where more fruits of his hands made serious breakthroughs. 

In his eight years at Carib, his job involved recruitment, coaching and management of underage teams. 

Some of the kids that came through his hands at Carib include 19-year-old Ben Starkie, now in the Tanzanian senior national team, Peterborough U23 winger John Gyamfi, Tim Akinola - currently playing with Arsenal U23s.

Others are Sidnei Tavares, who Mukiza also went on to coach at Leicester Academy before he moved to Porto B, Brandon Cover, another one now in Leicester’s U23s, and Kian Pennant, who is with England’s U19s.  

Mukiza’s work was beginning to get attention in wider Leicester and far beyond. “One day, two of my players were spotted by Nottingham Forest. They took a look at them and offered them contracts. I thought, ‘mmmhhh, I must be doing something good!’

“But then someone told Leicester FC about it, and for them good players from their area going to another team is failure on their part. I didn’t know the politics of this place. Leicester then rang me and requested to take a look at the said players.

“When the boys went and trained at Leicester, they were ready. Leicester then called, not just to confirm they were taking the players, but that they were also offering me a job.” 

Meanwhile, Mukiza had only level one coaching badge to his name, and was reluctant to sit exams at the FA to upgrade to the next level.

“I still didn’t know clearly if coaching as a profession is something I wanted to do. But then I got a call from a lady at the FA. She told me I had been one of the best students in the first level, and that the game was looking for black coaches. I listened to her and then did my final exams and passed.”

Mukiza went on to take the job of regional scout at Leicester City, although coaching was what he would have loved.

“Again, it was an opportunity for me to watch Leicester Academy standards, which I took and imparted to my team at Carib SS, where I still coach.”

Things started to happen pretty fast at Leicester. Because of what he saw at Leicester and replicated at Carib, he would - as a scout - now bring to Leicester players that were readier, and the scouting reports backed that. 

But there was a small problem. Mukiza’s recommendations would readily be taken in by the academy head coach while those of other scouts, who were equally good players, would be kept waiting.

So in order to maintain harmony, Leicester decided to set up  a development centre, and Mukiza - under someone else - would assume the role of player development at the centre. 

Rethinking purpose

“To be fair, I was now in love and saw I could do more. It is also at this point that I got identified by the FA to do a Uefa B course, fully paid for.”

This was also during the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic, around the same time the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement intensified calls for justice following the murder of a black man, George Floyd, by a policeman in the US.

“This period got me thinking a lot. I asked myself serious questions… I wanted to do something bigger, to give back to the community. There were mental issues to address, then the issue of diversity and equality.

“That is when I started my own Leicester Football and Education Academy (LFE). Many kids have dreams of making it to the top one day, but what if they don’t? What happens to them?” wondered Mukiza.

“So LFE is meant to help coaches and keep such players in the game, take them back into the game or system if they went astray, etc. We teach them that it is okay to be released by top clubs. You reach a point where you realise that you are bigger than you thought, and then give back to the community.

“So after the whole pandemic and Black Lives Matter thing, where I learned so much, I went back to Leicester and told them I wanted to move. I strongly believed that I was not progressing as I would have loved, and those growth opportunities were not being extended to me.

“Now I had their attention. Now they wanted to talk. Myself and two other black friends of mine applied for an available job. Two months later, no response.

“But because I was an insider, I contacted the responsible people and that same day, calls made rounds and I was told I made the top two, but the job went to someone else. I wondered about my other two friends who had no inside connections to hear from.

“Around the same time, through recommendations, Lincoln FC approached me. I did an interview there and that same day, they gave me the job. I could not believe it. I waited before taking up the offer, but realistically, the distance between Leicester and Lincoln was getting in the way.”

Peterborough connect the dots

Mukiza continued: “Meanwhile, my son was playing for Carib SS, where I still coached on Sundays. So one day, a friend of mine contacted me that Peterborough wanted a team for a tournament, and Carib SS was entered, with me as coach.

“While I coached, a certain guy stood nearby. I had no idea he was the head of coaching at Peterborough. He  wanted my son, who was also training at Coventry. 

“We went all the way to the final of that tournament. Note that the Peterborough head of coaching had no idea the boy was my son. He only learned of it after the boy ran and hugged me in celebration at the end, shouting: ‘dad, we made it.’

“So Peterborough put in two offers. One for my son and the other for myself. They told me: ‘Your name is one of those we have identified to take the club forward in the Midlands.

“And not just because we want your son, but because of what we believe you can add to us. We have been following you since 2016 and believe in you.”

Mukiza was humbled. Although Peterborough offered him the head of recruitment role, he felt more like coaching, and he made it clear to them.

“Our head of coaching loves you,” the appointing authority assured him. Mukiza gave Leicester the news they did not want to hear and took on the head of recruitment title at Peterborough, but with liberty to coach as well.

In his very first season coaching the U11s, Mukiza helped the club sell four top kids, the most in a single campaign for the outfit. 

Mukiza, who says he follows the local game, hopes to come back home one day and contribute towards the development of football in the country.

“But we need to have a mindset change, where we have to be professional, follow rules and trust the process,” he said.

Mukiza paid tribute to Sekagya, saying “without him, you wouldn’t bother looking for people like us. He has opened opportunities. He shows you how much potential we have. I’m grateful for people like him.”

Fact file

Name: Amos Mukiza

Age: 35

Academics: Computer scientist 

Coaching, scouting and managing experience since 2009: Oadby, Carib SS, Leicester City Academy, University of Leicester, LFEA

Current club: Peterborough as area (Midlands) recruitment manager and U11s coach

Standout products of Mukiza

Sammy Braybrooke, 18, Leicester U19 captain

Luther Munakandafa, 18, Notts County 

Ben Starkie, 19, Basford and Tanzanian senior national team

Tim Akinola, 21, Arsenal U23s.

Sidnei Tavares, 20, Porto B

Brandon Cover,  18, Leicester U23s

Kian Pennant, 18, Leicester U18s and England U19s

John Gyamfi, 19, Peterborough (from Leicester)

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